In August 2015 Polyera, a US-based OTFT backplane developer, announced their first product, the Wove Band flexible E Ink smart band, to be released in the second half of 2016. We wanted to learn more about Polyera's technology and business, and the company's Special Projects VP, Brendan Florez, was kind enough to answer a few questions we had.
Brendan has been with Polyera since 2008. Prior to joining Polyera, Brendan was an early employee at Rosetta, a digital marketing agency. Brendan holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Princeton University.
Q: Brendan - thanks for accepting to do this interview! Polyera's basic technology is an OTFT-based display backplane. Can you give us a short introduction to this technology?
Polyeraâ€™s competencies span many areas today, but it is true that we started out as a materials science company focused on the development of OTFTs that could be produced and commercialized at scale. These OTFTs use proprietary materials developed here at Polyera for many layers in the TFT stack, all designed to work together.
As you point out, our first application of this technology is in display backplanes, which really combines this fundamental OTFT technology with our expertise in formulations, process engineering, display engineering, and the like, allowing us to create truly flexible backplanes for a variety of frontplanes. The idea here is that our materials can easily fit into the processes used in existing display fabs (allowing us to scale production quickly), while still robust, dynamic flexibility that other existing backplane technologies canâ€™t replicate.
Q: Can you explain the advantages of OTFTs over silicon and IGZO TFTs?
Without going into too much detail, it seems clear that, at least today, silicon and IGZO TFTs do not meet the level of robustness required to allow for them to be incorporated into a dynamically-flexible display product. I think most people would agree that IGZO promises higher performance than that of organics, but â€“ as in most things â€“ each technology has its pros and cons.
I would not presume to know the details of the technologies being worked on by other companies, but weâ€™re clearly not the only ones working on this. I do think that our team â€“ across all competencies â€“ is very strong, and we have developed a technology platform that is in the leading position in terms of enabling OTFT-based display products at scale.
Q: You recently launched the Wove Smartband which uses your OTFT backplane and an E Ink display. Can you give us a short tour of this device?
Weâ€™re very excited about the Wove Band, as it will the worldâ€™s first product with a truly flexible display. The focus of the product is of course the display, which is roughly six times that of the Apple Watch, but which features a reflective, always-on E-Ink display, a flexible multi-touch capability (also the worldâ€™s first), a customized version of AndroidOS, Bluetooth connection to a companion app on your phone, three different ways of developing content for the Band (depending upon your level of technical sophistication), and an array of sensors.
Q: Why did you choose to adopt an E Ink display in the Wove?
If you look at wearables today, thereâ€™s a host of limitations: the screens are almost always off to conserve power, and even then the batteries donâ€™t last long. Further, the bright emissive screens have a whole host of issues: they donâ€™t show up well in bright light, and in certain environments â€“ a nice restaurant, a movie theater, or even a meeting room â€“ having a â€œChristmas tree on your wristâ€ can be distracting. A reflective E Ink display can solve a lot of these issues, as well give a more natural, â€œfabric-likeâ€ appearance, which we feel is more appropriate for wearables.
Q: Polyera is first and foremost a backplane developer. Why did you choose to design and develop your own consumer product?
Actually I would say that, first and foremost, Polyera is a technology company focused on creating technologies to enable next-generation electronics, with the first of those technologies being Polyera Digital Fabric Technology (PDFT), and the first product enabled by PDFT to be the Wove Band.
However, the question of why we started developing our own consumer product is a good one. The reason is multi-faceted, but foremost among them is that we wanted to really demonstrate to the world both that this technology was really ready for primetime, but also to start giving people a sense of what could be possible with this type of technology in a way that no amount of talking ever could.
Q: You have also shown OLED prototypes in the past. How far are we from an OLED Wove-like product?
I canâ€™t disclose the details of our roadmap, but we definitely view the first Wove Band as just the first step in an exciting new area of electronics. For now, one product at a time.
Q: It seems that the flexible OLED market is starting to take off. What part will OTFTs play? What does the future holds for Polyera?
I again canâ€™t talk about the details of our roadmap, but people have been talking about (and working on) flexible electronics for a long time, and weâ€™re finally going to start seeing some of the fruits of this labor. Whether reflective or emissive, flexible displays is going to change the way we think about the bridge between the digital and physical worldsâ€¦and thatâ€™s just displays.
Weâ€™re excited to be bringing the worldâ€™s first flexible display product to the market in 2016, and thatâ€™s just the beginning. Â Weâ€™re looking forward to the next decade.
Thanks Brendan! Good luck to both you and Polyera!